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Ringo Starr  (UK)

Ringo Starr, 'Vertical Man'

Vertical Man  (1998,  52.39)  ***/T½

One
What in the... World
Mindfield
King of Broken Hearts
Love Me Do
Vertical Man
Drift Away
I Was Walkin'
De Da
Without Understanding
I'll Be Fine Anywhere
Puppet
I'm Yours
Ringo Starr, 'I Wanna Be Santa Claus'

I Wanna Be Santa Claus  (1999,  44.29)  **½/½

Come on Christmas, Christmas Come on
Winter Wonderland
I Wanna Be Santa Claus
Little Drummer Boy
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Christmas Eve
Christmas Dance
Christmas Time is Here Again
Blue Christmas
Dear Santa
White Christmas
Pax Um Biscum (Peace Be With You)
Ringo Starr, 'Ringo Rama'

Ringo Rama  (2003,  49.53)  ***/½

Eye to Eye
Missouri Loves Company
Instant Amnesia
Memphis in Your Mind
Never Without You
Imagine Me There
I Think Therefore I Rock'n'Roll
Trippin' on My Own Tears
Write One for Me
What Love Wants to Be
Love First, Ask Questions Later

Elizabeth Reigns
English Garden
Ringo Starr, 'Liverpool 8'

Liverpool 8  (2008,  45.08)  **½/T

Liverpool 8
Think About You
For Love
Now That She's Gone Away
Gone Are the Days
Give it a Try
Tuff Love
Harry's Song
Pasodobles
If it's Love That You Want
Love is
R U Ready?

Current availability:

Mellotrons used:

If you're out of your teens and Richard "Ringo Starr" Starkey needs any introduction whatsoever, you've not only come to the wrong site, but probably shouldn't be reading anything to do with music whatsoever. I always used to describe him as 'the luckiest man alive' or somesuch, until the Beatles' 'Anthology' series was shown on the telly, and I realised he was actually a pretty decent drummer. Saying that, he didn't actually need to be that good - his rôle has always been that of inspiration; literally millions of players first picked up a pair of sticks because of Ringo. Name one other drummer who's had that effect; go on... What's more, he was (briefly and strangely) the most successful ex-Beatle for a while, racking up a string of hits in the early '70s, while managing not to kill himself drinking, unlike his pals Keith Moon and Harry Nilsson.

All of which brings us to Ringo's more recent solo career. Beginning in 1989, Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band have toured regularly, with Ringo bringing in various really quite big names (the time I saw them, he had Joe Walsh, Todd Rundgren, Burton Cummings, Dave Edmunds and Nils Lofgren), playing a mixture of Beatles, solo Ringo and the biggest hits of his collaborators. After releasing a good run of albums throughout the '70s, he only released one album in the 15 years before 1998 (1992's Time Takes Time - now there's a Ringoism...), when Vertical Man appeared. It was the first time he'd used a Mellotron himself; despite rumours, he never owned a MkII in the '60s, although John Lennon did, his machine famously living on a half-landing in his house. It's pretty much what you'd expect; pop/rock with a generally retro feel, neither exciting nor shite, just... Ringo. Best tracks are probably Mindfield and Without Understanding, though nothing stands out especially. Worst? The good-time reincarnation of Love Me Do - horrible. Mellotronically speaking, King Of Broken Hearts is a vaguely Beatles-esque ballad, with plenty of 'Tron flutes and pitchbent strings from either Mark Hudson (ex-Hudson Brothers) or Starr himself, with more of the same on the title track; nothing special, but nice to hear it used at all.

In a massive burst of activity, Ringo followed it a mere year later with his Christmas album (aargh!), I Wanna Be Santa Claus, and I'm afraid it's pretty much as bad as you'd expect. It starts promisingly, with the full-on circa '73 glam-rock stomp of Come On Christmas, Christmas Come On, but most of the material is rather anodyne, and more than a little sentimental. So what did I expect from a Christmas album? Not a lot, really, so I wasn't that disappointed. Mellotron on one track, apparently from Ringo and Hudson, though I'm not sure why it took two of them to play it... Anyway, Pax Um Biscum (Peace Be With You) is a bizarre, eastern-flavoured track, with more than a hint of It Ain't Half Hot Mum about it (awful UK '70s TV show, set in wartime India, clearly filmed in a gravel pit in Surrey), and has some background flutes and maybe strings, along with real ones.

Four years on, and Ringo Rama is something of an improvement, with various Famous Friends guesting, not that you'd know it if you hadn't read the credits. David Gilmour slaps a fiery solo onto Instant Amnesia, and Van Dyke Parks is his inimitable self on Elizabeth Reigns, but overall, the album plays it pretty safe, though you don't buy Ringo Starr albums looking for innovation, so I can hardly slate him for not providing it. Mellotron on two tracks this time, from Hudson again, with backgrounds flutes on What Love Wants To Be and the same on Love First, Ask Questions Later, although they can be heard clearly on the dying seconds of the song.

After a break, 2008's Liverpool 8 is another rather backwards-looking Ringo album, and (I believe) his last with Mark Hudson, as the two appear to have had some kind of falling-out. It's a typical enough effort, the title track effectively telling Ringo's life story, with the rest of the album either having a vaguely '60s feel or sitting pretty firmly in the 'middle-aged pop/rock' category; harmless, but unexciting. Hudson plays 'Tron, with strings on Gone Are The Days and the faintest of faint flute parts on For Love and Love Is.

So; hardly groundbreaking stuff here, but then you'd be stunned if it was, wouldn't you? Mostly perfectly good musically, if mainstreamy dadrock's your bag, but generally pretty poor on the 'Tron front.

Official site

See: Beatles | Paul McCartney | John Lennon | George Harrison | Hudson Brothers

State Radio  (US)  see: Samples etc.

Steel Prophet  (US)  see: Samples etc.

Jeffrey Steele  (US)

Jeffrey Steele, 'Somethin' in the Water'

Somethin' in the Water  (2001,  48.39)  **½/½

Tip Your Hat to the Teacher
Somethin' in the Water
The Whole Idea
I Can Give You Love Like That
We're Makin' Up
She Loved Me
And the Crowd Goes Wild
I Don't Wanna Leave it Like That
That's What I Keep Tellin' Myself
I Remember You
I Was Younger Then
3 o'Clock Flight
Hollywood Girl

Current availability:

Mellotron used:

Country dude Jeffrey "Steele" LeVasseur went solo after his band, Boy Howdy (presumably named for Creem magazine's iconic cartoon character) split in 1996, although it took him five years to release his solo debut, Somethin' in the Water, an earlier album having been rejected by his label. It's a decent enough mainstream country/rock affair, avoiding the AOR or schmaltzy excesses of many of his contemporaries, although you'd hardly call it alt.country. Opener Tip Your Hat To The Teacher namechecks just about any country act of note, including, strangely, Creedence Clearwater Revival, quoting Born On The Bayou; ironic, given that neither Steele nor any of Creedence are Southerners, all having been born in California. Other better tracks include She Loved Me (classic country lyric) and bar-band boogie closer Hollywood Girl, but it's not really what you'd call classic stuff.

Scott Baggett and Tony Harrell both play Mellotron, although why it took two of them to play the quiet flute part on 3 O'Clock Flight is beyond me, even if the song's string part is Mellotronic, too. All in all, then, modern country with a rootsy feel, but a very long way from the best Americana, with next to no Mellotron.

Official site

Steeleye Span  (UK)

Steeleye Span, 'Commoners Crown'

Commoners Crown  (1975,  38.34)  ***½/½

Little Sir Hugh
Bach Goes to Limerick
Long Lankin
Dogs and Ferrets
Galtee Farmer
Demon Lover
Elf Call
Weary Cutters
New York Girls

Current availability:

Mellotron used:

Steeleye Span (named for a mythical figure from a traditional song lyric) began as a Fairport Convention offshoot, going on to become the Fairports' only serious contender, commercially, in the British folk-rock stakes. 1975's Commoners [sic.] Crown, their seventh album, continued in the vein of its immediate predecessors, accessible folk-rock, reworking traditional songs in a (relatively) contemporary style, highlights including opener Little Sir Hugh, the classic Long Lankin and Maddy Prior's beautiful multi-overdubbed Weary Cutters. Not so sure about closer New York Girls, mind... Peter Sellers on ukulele and Goon voices? Maybe not. I'm not sure whether or not it's a good thing that an extra burst of said voices, originally found at the end of the album, have been excised from some CD versions.

An unknown musician (there's no keyboard credit of any sort) plays Mellotron strings on Long Lankin, drifting in and out of the mix throughout its eight-minute length, quite distinct from Peter Knight's violin. There's a definite 'non-crediting' going on here, as there's no mention of the pianist on Dogs And Ferrets, either. All in all, a fine album, if adhering to my general 'Steeleye album' rule, viz.: 'two classics, several decent, some filler'. Whatever, certainly worth hearing for folk-rock fans.

Official site

Steeple of Fyre  (US)

Steeple of Fyre, 'Steeple of Fyre'

Steeple of Fyre  (1999?,  40.45)  ***/T

Stiletto Fingernails/Backstreets of Purgatory
He to Me
Procession
Journey
A Million Years Ago

She's Just a Ghost Now

Current availability:

Mellotron used:

Steeple of Fyre are yet another Ventricle act, along with Angel Provocateur, Mauve Sideshow et al., so you're pretty safe in assuming it's full of what they describe as 'ethereal female vocals'; ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Darkwave. Ventricle's schtick is to have several different projects running concurrently, utilising various members of the same pool of musicians, each subtly (or sometimes not so subtly) different to each other, so Mauve Sideshow's abrasive experimentalism and Angel Provocateur's drifting soundscapes are both very different to Steeple of Fyre's, er, drifting experimentalism, all of which differ from Torn Curtain's take on the style.

Steeple of Fyre isn't the easiest of listens, but is nowhere near the label's further-out acts, avoiding any actual abrasiveness. While Dusty Lee's Mellotron strings can be heard on three of the six tracks, he keeps it sparse this time (sadly), with just the odd chord here and there, leaving the OTT use for Angel Provocateur. If you're into the label's sound, you'll like this, but the casual listener/Mellotron fan would be advised to look elsewhere.

See: Angel Provocateur | Kangaroo Kourt | Mauve Sideshow | Torn Curtain

Stencil Forest  (US)

Stencil Forest, 'Opening Act'

Opening Act  (1983,  41.32/49.19)  ***½/T½

Opening Act
Celestial Voices
Just a Fantasy
Crossroads
Looking Back
The Pandemonium Shadow Show
Indian Summer
Five Studded Poker Player
[CD adds:
Five By Five
Just a Fantasy (acoustic)]

Current availability:

Mellotron used:

Stencil Forest (taking their name from a Happy the Man track) were a one-off early '80s pomp outfit, not dissimilar to Styx, Kansas and maybe Saga, amongst others. Doug Andresen has the sort of voice purpose-built for AOR, though he would've made a good prog singer, too, particularly in that 'American style' (think: Kansas, Starcastle), and the rest of the band have the style down pat. So why didn't they make it? Why don't so many decent bands make it? A huge helping hand from Lady Luck tends to be needed (sounds a bit like one of their lyrics, actually), and merely being 'good' clearly isn't enough. Stencil Forest were also unfortunate enough to fall chronologically between the late-'70s pomp boom, such as it was, and '80s AOR; the average AOR fan may well have found them too 'clever' for their tastes, and they would probably have been considered slightly dated by then.

Opening Act is a decent enough album of its type, although it suffers slightly from an 'indie label' production (listen to the 'harmonies' on bonus track Five By Five, admittedly from a decade later), despite a remix for CD. It also sometimes tips over into Journey-esque AOR territory, a statement likely to trigger one of two reactions in the listener, only one of them good. Album highlights, certainly for the prog fan, are the lengthy Kansas-like The Pandemonium Shadow Show and (relatively) complex closer Five Studded Poker Player, although if you have a low tolerance for the style, you'd be advised to avoid it all together, to be honest. Frank Cassella played Mellotron on the album, although I've no idea if he actually owned one, or used a studio/hire machine. Celestial Voices combines a string part with synth strings, but the album's chief 'Tron track is Indian Summer, with strings throughout, although the Mellotron's a pretty minor player overall, falling well behind Cassella's organ, piano, mono- and string synths.

Opening Act would probably have remained a total obscurity, had the band not reformed in the early 2000s and reissued it themselves, before releasing a new album, The Abyss, in 2006. You may have gathered by now that this is an album for pomp fans, and anyone seeking harder-edged prog should look elsewhere. Not much Mellotron, but plenty of pomp. Worth the effort.

Official site

Stephanie's Id  (US)  see: Samples etc.

Leigh Stephens  (US)

Leigh Stephens, 'Red Weather'

Red Weather  (1969,  38.17)  ***½/T

Another Dose of Life
Drifting
Indians
I Grow Higher
Red Weather
If You Choose Too
Joannie Mann
Chicken Pot Pie

Current availability:

Mellotron used:

Leigh Stephens, guitarist with the infamous Blue Cheer, was chucked out of the band after their second album, apparently for not doing drugs (!) He moved briefly to the UK, recording Red Weather in London in early '69 with the usual suspects, including keyboardists Ian Stewart and Nicky Hopkins. Does it sound like Blue Cheer? Nope: more like The Dead, to be honest; it's certainly got some of that San Fran psych sound, although it's a bit of a mish-mash stylewise. Then again, since when did any of those bands achieve anything remotely like consistency in any area? The album's stronger material includes opener Another Dose Of Life, with its acid guitar interjections, I Grow Higher and the title track, and while there's nothing actually bad here, the aptly-named Drifting goes on a bit, while If You Choose Too is a bit too piano-boogie-by-numbers for its own good.

I thought I was going to get through the whole album without hearing any Mellotron, especially as the last track's called Chicken Pot Pie. Nope: although it's an instrumental acoustic-ish psych-folk number, it's got somebody (Stephens? Hopkins?) playing an interesting MkII strings part that enhances the track nicely. Anyway; while not essential, fans of that late-'60s US psych thing who haven't heard this before will lap it up, although it's not worth it on the Mellotron front.

Official site

Stereophonics  (UK)

Stereophonics, 'Performance and Cocktails'

Performance and Cocktails  (1999,  50.56)  ***/T

Roll Up and Shine
The Bartender and the Thief
Hurry Up and Wait
Pick a Part That's New
Just Looking
Half the Lies You Tell Ain't True
I Wouldn't Believe Your Radio
T-Shirt Sun Tan
Is Yesterday, Tomorrow, Today?
A Minute Longer
She Takes Her Clothes Off
Plastic California
I Stopped to Fill My Car Up
Stereophonics, 'You Gotta Go There to Come Back'

You Gotta Go There to Come Back  (2003,  59.35)  **½/T

Help Me (She's Out of Her Mind)
Maybe Tomorrow
Madame Helga
You Stole My Money Honey
Getaway
Climbing the Wall
Jealousy
I'm Alright (You Gotta Go There to Come Back)
Nothing Precious at All
Rainbows and Pots of Gold
I Miss You Now
High as the Ceiling
Since I Told You It's Over

Current availability:

Mellotrons used:

Stereophonics are quite determinedly UK indie, in its late-'90s incarnation; think Oasis (but only if you absolutely have to) crossed with, er, someone else in the same field. What amazes me about this stuff is how much heavier it is than '80s indie; as metal became more extreme, it seems the indie merchants took over the Gibson-through-a-Marshall hard rock sound, unfortunately mixing it with the weak-as-water rhythm sections and whiny vocalists the '80s scene coughed up. I'm really not a fan of this sort of stuff (what, you'd guessed?), and I have to say that I'd rather listen to, say, Blur or Supergrass in preference.

Saying that, Stereophonics do a passable job on Performance and Cocktails, while being slightly less irritating (and plagiaristic) than some, although Kelly Jones' 60-a-day vocals do grate after a while. I have to say, however, after seven or eight tracks, I found myself wishing the album was rather shorter, as in, only seven or eight tracks. Co-producer Marshall Bird is credited with Hammond, Rhodes, piano and Mellotron, but the only track I can hear the 'Tron on for definite is closer I Stopped To Fill My Car Up, with a pleasant little repeating flute part.

Two albums and four years later, Stereophonics released You Gotta Go There to Come Back, which sounds like business as usual, at least to my ears. It's the standard mix of uptempo and slower numbers, with the requisite level of 'authentic' 3rd-hand soulfulness, like a low(er)-budget Paul Weller; Christ, this makes Oasis sound like they mean it. I really can't think of anything else to say about such a lacklustre release, so I won't even try. Mellotron on two tracks, apparently from Kelly Jones, Tony Kirkham and Jim Lowe, who between them managed to lay down a short string part towards the end of Maybe Tomorrow, and some flutes amongst the real strings on Rainbows And Pots Of Gold. Masterful.

So; indie fans probably do need to apply, but I wouldn't especially recommend these to anyone much else, really, although there's a couple of OK 'Tron tracks.

Official site

Stern(-Combo) Meissen  (E. Germany)

Stern-Combo Meissen, 'Weißes Gold'

Weißes Gold  (1978,  37.48)  ****/½

Ouvertüre
Der Traum
Des Goldes Bann
Der Goldmacher
Die Flucht
Zweifel
Die Erkenntnis
Weißes Gold
Stern-Combo Meissen, 'Der Weite Weg'

Der Weite Weg  (1979,  41.29)  ***/T½

Die Sage
Gib Mir, Was du Geben Kannst
Was Bleibt
Der Motor
Der Frühling

Der Weite Weg
Stern Meissen, 'Reise Zum Mittelpunkt des Menschen'

Reise Zum Mittelpunkt des Menschen  [as Stern Meissen]  (1981,  38.54)  ****/TTT½

Allein
Hinwendung
Romanze
Innenwelt
Menschenzeit
Stern Meissen, 'Stundenschlag'

Stundenschlag  [as Stern Meissen]  (1982,  40.03)  **½/TT

Also Was Soll aus Mir Werden
Der Eine und der Andere

Das Paar
Stundenschlag
In der Selben Bahn
El Salvador
Leben Möcht' ich

Current availability:

Mellotrons used:

Stern-Combo Meissen were, to an extent, a typical East German progressive outfit, veering between prog and more mainstream music, presumably to keep the authorities happy. 1977's Stern-Combo Meissen (***½) is a live recording, free of any Mellotronic involvement, although not a bad album, with a reasonable version of that old classical warhorse, Mussorgsky's Night On Bare/Bald Mountain. Their follow-up, Weißes/Weisses Gold is a bit of a monster, though, being a mature, sophisticated piece of progressive rock, recorded with a choir and an orchestra, which makes 'Tron-spotting (from Lothar Kramer or Thomas Kurzhals) a bit of a nightmare. In fact, the only thing I can hear that I'd like to say is Mellotron is a few seconds of flutes is Ouvertüre, and even then, I could be mistaken. Great album, even allowing for the unfortunate ELP-isms on the organ front, but not for the 'Tron.

After the symphonic grandeur of Weißes Gold, Der Weite Weg is irritatingly straightforward, although it starts promisingly enough with the seven-minute Die Sage. The following three tracks are all pretty horrible, although the album's partially redeemed by the twelve-minute Der Frühling, based on some Vivaldi. Mellotron on two tracks only, Der Motor and Der Frühling, both with strings, often doubled on string synth, making it hard to tell in places what's playing what.

Two years on, Reise Zum Mittelpunkt des Menschen is, oddly, a distinct improvement, although it would prove to be the now abbreviated Stern Meissen's last prog gasp. The band utilise quite a 'modern' approach, with sequenced bass figures and polysynths all round, sounding a little like a cross between UK and ELP (again) in places. The material is so much better than on their previous effort that it almost sounds like a different band. Loads of 'Tron, to boot; strings (plus that string synth in places) all over the place, with only short opener Allein being exempt. Romanze is the classic here, with more 'Tron strings than you can shake a stick at (should you, for some strange reason, wish to do such a thing). More than worth the effort.

Unsurprisingly, the following year's Stundenschlag is distressingly mainstream; the jazzy, violin-driven, nine-minute Das Paar harks back to their earlier work, although the title track and El Salvador are particularly bad examples of the band's new-found interest in appalling mainstream pop. There's a surprising amount of Mellotron to be heard, with strings on both Also Was Soll Aus Mir Werden and Der Eine Und Der Andere (though only just on the latter) and brief bursts of choir and strings on closer Leben Möcht' Ich, but not enough of anything to actually make it worth buying.

So; for the Mellotron, Reise Zum Mittelpunkt des Menschen is the only Stern Meissen album actually worth owning, although Weißes Gold is a damn' good album, too. Stern-Combo Meissen isn't bad and Der Weite Weg and even Stundenschlag have their moments, too, but don't go too far out of your way for any of them. Incidentally, a 1996 release, Live, recorded two decades earlier, has Mellotron credited, but actually features string synth.

Becca Stevens Band  (US)

Becca Stevens Band, 'Weightless'

Weightless  (2011,  59.01)  ***/T

Weightless
I'll Notice
There is a Light That Never Goes Out
Traveler's Blessing
Riddle
Kiss From a Rose
How to Love
Canyon Dust
My Girls
No More
You Can Fight
Each Coming Night

Current availability:

Chamberlin used:

Becca Stevens has collaborated with Brad Mehldau and Taylor Eigsti, amongst others, although her own style, at least on 2011's Weightless, is more of a folk/Americana cross, full of mournful harmoniums and acoustic guitars. Unfortunately, this is one of those albums that sounds fantastic for about three tracks, but its sheer length (far too long at an hour) and repetition grind down all but the most dedicated listener; a real shame, as a good edit would've improved this enormously.

Liam Robinson plays Chamberlin, with chordal strings and a flute melody on There Is A Light That Never Goes Out; it may crop up elsewhere, but even in a mix this sparse, it isn't easy to tell. I feel like I've been a little harsh here; this really isn't a bad album, but you've got to be really up for something this down (!) to appreciate it properly.

Official site

Brian Stevens  (US)

Brian Stevens, 'Faded Dreams'

Faded Dreams  (1979,  38.35)  **/T

Turquoise Lady
Georgia Sunday Morning
Pearls
The Jester's Friend
Rainbow Suite: Rainbow Song/
  Over the Rainbow
Back to Normal
The Music Never Lies
So Long
Old Man Time

Current availability:

Mellotron used:

Brian Stevens is a long- (who said 'deservedly'?) forgotten American singer-songwriter with a terrible haircut and a rather overblown vocal style. I have no idea whether he recorded again (or, indeed, before), but 1979's Faded Dreams is a pretty typical document of its era; in fact, probably a more honest one than its better-known contemporaries, as it was produced without major-label interference. Saying that, cheesy disco opener Turquoise Lady was clearly intended as single material, while the bluesy Georgia Sunday Morning and the jazzy Back To Normal were presumably considered 'sophisticated', although the record's default setting is the rather dull, mainstream balladic pop/rock to be heard on every other track, to one degree or another. If there's a 'best track', it's Pearls, opening with two minutes of ambient sound before the song itself kicks in, building up to a rocky conclusion and the album's only decent guitar solo.

J.R. Dennis plays credited Mellotron on The Jester's Friend, with interweaving flutes in the intro and choirs backing real voices later on (listen for the key-click). Are you going to track a copy of this down, all assuming you might wish to? Almost certainly not, but I wouldn't worry too much, even for one reasonable Mellotron track. Thanks, as so often, to Mark Medley for unearthing this late '70s time capsule.

Cat Stevens  (UK)

Cat Stevens, 'Foreigner'

Foreigner  (1973,  36.08)  ***/½

"Foreigner Suite"
The Hurt
How Many Times
Later
100 I Dream

Current availability:

Mellotron used:

I've heard rumours for a while that Cat Stevens used Mellotron, but having finally been pointed in the right direction, it's hardly the most prominent use ever... His 1973 concept effort, Foreigner, features his only side-long piece in the "Foreigner Suite", and while it's more palatable than his usual bedsitter/wetter singer-songwriter stuff, don't expect some sort of prog epic. Don't expect much 'Tron, either; a few string chords here and there, presumably played by Cat himself, noticeably different from the real strings used on the piece, although I've no idea why he bothered.

Anyway, Cat, these days known as Yusuf Islam, appears to be in the process of emerging from his extremely lengthy, religion-induced retirement, which has to be good news for his long-suffering fans. Don't go expecting a repeat of his lavish '70s tours, though... Don't bother with this album for the Mellotron, either.

Official Yusuf Islam site

Fan site

Jon Stevens  (New Zealand)

Jon Stevens, 'Circle'

Circle  (1996,  43.05)  *½/½

Proud Man
When?
Mess I'm in
Joy
Carry the Flame
Revolution
Circle
One on One
Candles
One More Time

Current availability:

Mellotron used:

Jon Stevens is a New Zealander who, like so many of his musically-inclined countrymen, is frequently mistaken for an Aussie, although his early career took place in his homeland. After co-founding the apparently very successful Noiseworks, Stevens went solo in the early '90s, eventually releasing his fourth (though second post-Noiseworks) album, Circle. Well, what can I say? Horrible. Truly horrible. If this is 'adult pop', you can bloody well keep it - this is complete drivel. Most of the tracks are ballads, with those horrible '90s programmed drums, and... Oh look, just steer clear, OK?

Mellotron on Candles, from the enigmatically-name Barbarella G, with some typical 'Strawberry Fields'-style flutes. Um, that's it. Do not buy this album. Oh yeah - Stevens joined the appalling INXS for a couple of years in the new millennium, as if you needed any other incentive to run away, very fast.

Official site

Ray Stevens  (US)

Ray Stevens, 'Misty'

Misty  (1975,  34.47)  **½/T

Misty
Indian Love Call
Over the Rainbow
Oh, Lonesome Me
Sunshine
Cow-Cow Boogie
Young Love
Deep Purple
Mockingbird Hill
Take Care of Business
Lady of Spain

Current availability:

Mellotron used:

Harold Ray "Ray Stevens" Ragsdale occupies an unusual position as a comedy country composer and singer, his biggest hits including Everything Is Beautiful, Indian Love Call and novelty effort The Streak. His twelfth album, 1975's Misty, consists largely of countryfied covers of popular songs from the pre-rock'n'roll era, more notable versions including the semi-yodelled Indian Love Call and a jazz/funk/country (!) take on Over The Rainbow.

Stevens plays Mellotron on two tracks, with a lush string part on Oh, Lonesome Me and less of the same on Young Love; hardly essential, but always nice to hear. Sadly, although still very much active, Stevens has seriously blotted his copy-book in recent years by involving himself with wingnut far-right Tea Party-style politics. Misty harks back to a more innocent time, when health reforms that might stop people dying because they can't afford treatment aren't seen as 'socialist'. No-one's laughing now, Ray...

Official site

Pete Stewart  (US)  see: Samples etc.

Gary Stier  (US)  see: Buffalo Nickel

Curtis Stigers  (US)

Curtis Stigers, 'Brighter Days'

Brighter Days  (1999,  49.30)  **½/T

She's Fading Away
To Be Loved
End of the Afternoon
Well Worn Love
Then I Had This Dream
Brighter Days
Van Said (Sha La La)
The Last Embrace
Undertow
Don't Go Far
Deep Dark Night

Current availability:

Mellotron used:

'Adult alternative': that's how I've seen Curtis Stigers described. 'Jazz', too. Jazz? Not going by his third effort, Brighter Days, he isn't. Is this what passed for music in the '90s? And there we were thinking it was better than the '80s. 'Adult contemporary pop', maybe. 'Dull-as-ditchwater adult slop', more like. Actually, it's a lot less offensive than many similar I've forced myself to sit through recently, just completely dullsville, which is better than total shitsville, I suppose. Standout tracks? None. Don't be silly.

Credited Mellotron on one track, from (John) Phil(ip) Shenale, who keeps changing his name, which doesn't help anyone. Anyway, a background string part followed by some reasonably nice flutes, although they don't really add anything much to the song. So; more tedious 'adult' pap. Buy something else.

Official site

Still  (US)  see: Samples etc.

Still Light  (US/UK)

Still Light, 'Lything'

Lything  (2009,  37.45)  ***½/T½

Through the Grain
A Remedy

Footprints in the Garden
August
Hour of the Wolf
Tenebre

Current availability:

Mellotron used:

Still Light are the British/American trio of Kirill Nikolai, Lucy Hague and, er, Sand Snowman, whose debut, 2009's Lything, is a beautiful, ghostly album of haunted folk tunes and the spectre of drone-rock. Highlights include opener Through The Grain, Footprints In The Garden, an ambient piece underpinning a recording of the reminiscences of an elderly British lady who'd grown up in colonial India and the lengthy, harmonium-driven August, but, essentially, it's all good.

Nikolai plays (real?) Mellotron, with distant strings on Through The Grain and A Remedy, sounding just about good enough to be genuine. Or not? Anyway, a lovely album, recommended to folkies and lo-fi fans, although probably not worth it for the its Mellotron use.

MySpace

Chris Stills  (US)

Chris Stills, '100 Year Thing'

100 Year Thing  (1998,  49.23)  **½/T

100 Year Thing
Lucifer & Jane
Voyeur
Last Stop
Razorblades
If I Were a Mountain
Rattlesnakes
Desert Sands
God Won't Make You a Man
Trouble
Countryside
Tears of Envy
Doors to the World

Current availability:

Chamberlin used:

Like many others, Stephen Stills' son Chris suffers from 'famous parent syndrome': Jakob Dylan, Baxter Dury, Adam Cohen, Anna Waronker... The list goes on and on. Unlike many, however, he seems to have some genuine talent, although whether he'd have got a contract with Atlantic under his own steam is a moot point... Did I hear someone squeak "Nepotism"? That's not Chris' fault, though, and who's going to turn down the chance to get their music out into the world on a major-label budget? Almost no-one, which is why so many people get fucked over by the majors, but that's another story.

Still's debut, 1998's 100 Year Thing, sounds in places like it could've been made by someone of his dad's generation, although it has an overall late '90s feel, more due to the production than any quirk of his songwriting, I suspect. Said songwriting, sadly, is as cliché-ridden as his dad's least impressive work, full of entreaties to 'keep on singing the blues' and the like, all of which sounded dated by, ooh, 1974. This isn't actually bad, but nor is it that good, and Still's voice is rather too ordinary to tackle this kind of stuff; the reason many of his dad's generation succeeded was a combination of great voices and immense joie de vivre, neither of which Stills minor seems to possess. Ethan Johns acts as Stills' jack-of-all-trades here, playing various keyed and stringed instruments across the album, including a Chamberlin, with strings on Last Stop and Desert Sands, although the strings on closer Doors To The World are real.

Overall, then, not that exciting, with little tape-replay, although anyone looking for a lost early '70s singer-songwriter effort could do worse than to purchase this, roll up a fat one and pretend they're 21 again; the rest of you should probably go elsewhere.

Official site


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